The men's 200 metre freestyle event at the 2004 Summer Olympics was contested at the Olympic Aquatic Centre of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex in Athens, Greece. The event took place on 15 and 16 August.
In the lead-up to the final, the event was billed as The Race of the Century or the "greatest swimming race of all-time", due to its significance and high-class field. It featured four of the fastest swimmers in Olympic history: Ian Thorpe (Australia, world record holder in the event at the time), Pieter van den Hoogenband (Netherlands, defending Olympic champion), Grant Hackett (Australia, former world record holder in the event), and Michael Phelps (United States, later became the most decorated all-time Olympian, with a total of 28 medals).
Thorpe edged out Pieter van den Hoogenband in the final 50 metres to claim his second gold at the Games and fifth career medal, following his triumph in the 400 m freestyle two days earlier. With only 50 metres to go, he powered past his arch-rival to touch the wall first in an Olympic record of 1:44.71, matching the third fastest swim over the distance. Van den Hoogenband, who led the field through the first three laps under a world record pace, settled only for the silver in 1:45.23. Meanwhile, Phelps finished the race with a bronze in an American record of 1:45.32, ending his hopes of emulating Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven gold medals.